Phillies legend still sees MVP potential in Maikel Franco

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Phillies legend still sees MVP potential in Maikel Franco

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt has arrived in Phillies camp for a weeklong stay as a guest instructor.

Schmidt always has interesting opinions. Two years ago, he proclaimed that third baseman Maikel Franco had MVP potential. Now, the clock is ticking on Franco, 25. If team officials don’t see his offensive talents come together this season, they could pursue Manny Machado as a free agent next offseason. In the interim, it would not be surprising to see Scott Kingery, the team’s second baseman of the future, make a stop at third sometime this season if the Phillies sought more offense consistency from the position. 

Despite leading the team in home runs (24) and RBIs (76) last season, Franco saw his OPS crash to .690, worst among 18 big-league third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances. But Schmidt still sees MVP potential in Franco and has faith it will all come together for him.

“Absolutely, it will,” Schmidt said. “But I think it’s going to take a little more willingness to — how do I say this? He has to find that ability to put the ball in play with two strikes more often, the ability to tone it down a little, maybe get a little Joey Votto, where, ‘I have a swing for two strikes to put the ball in play more often to keep the rally going, get that RBI.’ Those kind of things.

“I think it’s going to take a mental commitment by Maikel to make that happen. I’m not going to teach him, but he knows what I think because we talk a lot, but I’m not his day-to-day coach. I said, ‘You know, you’ve just got to hit your pitch when you swing at it and the only way to do that is to make your swing shorter and quicker and down to the ball.’ Maikel tends to want to launch a little bit, he gets anxious. But I say it every year, he could be an MVP as easily as anybody this year.”

It was interesting to hear Schmidt talk about how Franco’s desire to launch the ball can be a potential detriment. Launching the ball with a slight uppercut is actually something the Phillies’ analytically driven front office would like to see Franco do. General manager Matt Klentak said as much at the winter meetings when he noted Franco has high exit velocities — i.e., he hits the ball hard. In theory, keeping the ball in the air more should result in more extra-base hits and homers and fewer double-play balls for the slow-footed Franco.

This is all part of the new science of baseball and the Phillies, once as old school as they get, have embraced it.

It’s all new to Schmidt, whose swing, despite a downward plane, produced 548 homers.

“There’s a little bit of analytics stuff that they’re using now, they want the ball in the air more than on the ground, a slight uppercut,” Schmidt said. “I would dispute a few of those things, but a couple years from now I might be preaching it myself.”

Schmidt said that when he became a complete hitter, “I had more of a downward plane, down to the ball and a natural finish. Hit the equator of the ball and you’ll create a hard-hit ball and line drive. I do not believe in trying to create a ball that’s not on the ground. I do not, but that’s just me.

“I used to preach if you don’t hit a line drive, I want you to hit it on the ground because you’ll be more productive. I want to prevent the fly ball. Now, I wouldn’t tell Aaron Judge to prevent the fly ball. I may not tell that to Rhys Hoskins. But I surely want Cesar Hernandez not to hit fly balls.

“There are a lot of new theories these days that we wouldn’t have subscribed to back in the day. It could pan out to make us totally wrong.”

Francisco Rodriguez released by Phillies

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Francisco Rodriguez released by Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Francisco Rodriguez’s bid to revive his career with a spot in the Phillies’ bullpen ended Saturday when he was granted his unconditional release by the club.

Rodriguez, who ranks fourth all-time in saves, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies shortly before camp began. He pitched to a 5.40 ERA in 6 2/3 innings and was tagged for 11 hits.

Rodriguez, 36, was released twice last summer, first by Detroit and then by Washington.

This might be the end of the road for Rodriguez. If it is, he had a tremendous career. He racked up 437 saves and was a six-time All-Star in 16 seasons. Only Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith have more saves.

While Rodriguez’ time in a Phillies uniform will go down as a footnote to his career, he did have the best quote of the spring early in camp.

“I love the game,” he said. “I don’t think I have to prove anything. I don’t think I went to Walmart and bought 900 appearances and 437 saves. I did that with a lot of pride and hard work. This is the only thing I know how to do, play baseball. God gave me the opportunity to throw a baseball and I’m going to continue to do it.”

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.